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Introductory Speech: National Disability Insurance Scheme Amendment (Worker Screening Database) Bill 2019

This bill establishes the National Disability Insurance Scheme Worker Screening Database to support a nationally consistent approach to screening people who work with people with disability in the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

This bill aims to protect and prevent people with disability from experiencing harm from the people who work closely with them.

The National Disability Insurance Scheme is one of the largest social and economic policy reforms in Australian history. It is transforming the lives of people with disability across the country.

January 2019 marked a major milestone, with more than 250,000 Australians now receiving support through the scheme. Around 78,000 of these people are receiving support for the very first time. These figures will continue to grow as the national rollout continues.

At full scheme, it is expected that around 460,000 Australians with disability will be supported, and this will represent an investment of $22 billion a year in supporting people with disability to live with choice and control.

This government is committed to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of participants in the National Disability Insurance Scheme. In December 2016, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) endorsed the NDIS Quality and Safeguarding Framework. The framework is the result of over three years of consultation with people with disability, carers and providers. It sets out a new approach to regulation for the NDIS to protect NDIS participants.

A key part of the framework is nationally consistent NDIS worker screening. Worker screening is a way to check that people who are working, or seek to work, in the NDIS do not pose an unacceptable risk of harm to people with disability.

Current worker screening arrangements for disability workers are state based and of variable quality. Clearances are not recognised across jurisdictions. A national NDIS Worker Screening Check is a major step forward from the variable arrangements currently operating in each state and territory.

Nationally consistent NDIS worker screening will help create a safe and trusted workforce in the NDIS, and minimise the risk of harm to people with disability. This bill is integral for the implementation of the NDIS Screening Check.

Nationally consistent NDIS worker screening is a joint effort from all Australian governments. We have collectively agreed to the Intergovernmental Agreement on Nationally Consistent Worker Screening for the NDIS. The intergovernmental agreement sets out the responsibilities of states and territories and the Commonwealth.

The new NDIS Worker Screening Check is due to commence in July 2019 in all states and territories, except Western Australia. Western Australia intends to implement worker screening from July 2020.

Through this bill, the Australian government is delivering on our responsibilities under the intergovernmental agreement. We are getting on with the job of ensuring that participants, their families and carers can be satisfied with the quality of services they receive and feel comfortable that necessary protections are in place to ensure their safety.

To support the quality agenda, the government has taken strong, decisive action by establishing an independent, national body—the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission—to protect and prevent people with disability from experiencing harm. The government has committed $209 million over four years to support the work of the NDIS commission.

 

The bill will enable the NDIS commission to establish and maintain a national database for information about NDIS worker screening. This will provide timely and accurate information for employers and self-managed participants about NDIS workers' clearance status.

The NDIS commission commenced operations in New South Wales and South Australia from 1 July 2018. By July 2020, the NDIS commission will be operational in all states and territories. As an independent statutory body with integrated functions and powers, the NDIS commission is a fit-for-purpose, evidence based, responsive regulator.

The NDIS commission is responsible for registering NDIS providers, responding to complaints, managing reportable incidents notifications, and providing leadership to reduce and eliminate the use of restrictive practices in the NDIS.

The NDIS commission will also lead the overall design for nationally consistent NDIS worker screening. This aligns with its responsibility to work with all governments and oversee the broad policy settings for nationally consistent NDIS worker screening, and recognises that the NDIS commission is the national point of contact for NDIS providers.

This national leadership and consistency provides many benefits, but the NDIS commission does not act alone—worker screening is a joint effort. All states and territories have been consulted on the content of the bill and are supportive.

The NDIS Act currently provides for the screening of workers through the registration requirements for registered NDIS providers and the National Disability Insurance Scheme (Practice Standards—Worker Screening) Rules 2018. From July 2019, these checks will be conducted by worker screening units within a nationally consistent framework.

We know from our consultations that stakeholders have consistently supported this approach. They want to see a robust, risk based worker screening check in the disability sector that is portable across jurisdictions.

Worker screening checks will be mandatory for some NDIS workers. Those who have more than incidental contact with a person with disability, and work with a registered NDIS provider, must have a clearance. Worker screening will not be mandatory for workers with only incidental contact with participants.

As part of the NDIS worker screening check, worker screening units based in each state and territory will consider applicants' criminal history information, any relevant disciplinary and misconduct information, and information taken from the NDIS commission's complaints and reportable incidents system.

Under this bill, the database will store information about NDIS workers who have applied for an NDIS worker screening check, the status of their application, and decisions by the NDIS worker screening unit about their check, including whether the worker was issued a clearance or an exclusion or not.

This means that NDIS worker clearances will be portable across jurisdictions and employers, including self-managed participants—reducing duplication and complexity for workers and providers moving between, or operating across, jurisdictions. Similarly, a worker who has been excluded by one state or territory will be excluded nationally. This represents a major step forward from the existing fragmented arrangements operating in each state and territory.

The database will also include information about a person's employer, including if this is a self-managed participant. This will ensure that employers are appropriately informed if a worker they have engaged has had their clearance suspended or revoked, or if their clearance expires.

The bill provides for the minister to determine additional information to be included in the database through a legislative instrument. This provides flexibility to respond to future circumstances and is appropriate to accommodate the introduction of a new policy. For example, if there is a new application status required in the future that is not currently envisaged by the bill, the minister may provide for this to be captured in the database.

The protection of people with disability from violence, abuse and neglect is a key priority for all Australian governments. A national approach, as enabled by the database to be established under this bill, eliminates the opportunity for people to make multiple attempts at gaining a worker screening clearance. It prevents people with adverse records in one state or territory from attempting to gain a clearance to work in the NDIS in another state or territory.

The database will provide employers with an important tool for their recruitment, selection and screening processes and help with their responsibility to ensure people chosen to work in the NDIS are safe to work with people with disability. It also provides self-managed NDIS participants and their families with important information to help them make informed choices about workers providing their supports. Employers and self-managed participants will be able to use the database established under this bill to verify that workers hold a clearance.

Importantly, nationally consistent worker screening will deter predatory individuals from seeking work in this sector. Participants and their families can have confidence that workers with clearances have been assessed as not posing an unacceptable risk of harm to people with disability.

The database provides for the ongoing monitoring of clearance holders' criminal history information. Ongoing monitoring provides certainty that unsuitable individuals will not remain in the sector if they do the wrong thing.

Information in the database will be protected NDIS commission information and will only be shared and used for the NDIS commission's legislated functions and other purposes of the NDIS Act. Penalties apply for misuse or unauthorised disclosure.

The Australian government is committed to a high-quality, sustainable National Disability Insurance Scheme. Ensuring that people with disability, their families and carers, and NDIS providers know that workers have a clearance is an important part of having a trusted workforce. The database will provide timely, accurate access to this information for employers and self-managed NDIS participants, ensuring that they can make an informed judgement about who should work with people with disability.

Our paramount consideration is the right of people with disability to live free from abuse, violence, neglect and exploitation. Our government is committed to meeting this objective and ensuring that people with disability are not exposed to harm from those who are there to support them. This bill is a major step forward in implementing nationally consistent NDIS worker screening.

Debate adjourned.

 

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Video of speech available here: https://youtu.be/3CvvPMrCTsk